By Courtney Dobson, Country Specialist for Russia at Amnesty International USA
Ekaterina Vologzheninova, a single mom and shop assistant from Sverdlovsk region in Russia, has been found guilty of ‘inciting hatred and enmity’ for sharing links on social media. Action is needed to call on the Russian authorities to overturn Ekaterina Vologzheninova’s conviction and respect the right to freedom of expression for all persons in Russia.
The case against Ekaterina Vologzheninova is not unique in Russia and her conviction on 20 February is reflective of the regime’s ongoing attack on civil society. Ekaterina Vologzheninova first caught the attention of authorities in the summer of 2014 when she shared with online friends, links to material she found on the internet that contradicted the government’s official narrative of events in eastern Ukraine as well as the annexation of Crimea. Whilst Yekaterina may have assumed her re-posted content would be accessible only to her registered friends, Russian authorities were also following Yekaterina’s online activity. For this, Yekaterina has been sentenced to 320 hours of “corrective labor”, which she must complete outside her paid employment and while maintaining sole care for her elderly mother and child. Yekaterina also remains on the government’s list of terrorists and extremists and her bank account and cards have been frozen as a result.
Following Putin’s re-election in 2012 for a third term as president, the space for civil society has been put under considerable pressure as a series of laws aimed at eliminating any form of dissent to those in power have been introduced. In 2013, a law was passed that gives the state media regulator, Roskomnadzor, the authority to block websites that carry ‘extremist’ content, within 24 hours and without a court order. It is estimated that thousands of websites and pages have been blocked on orders from Roskomnadzor. This, along with a change to the definition of treason in the criminal code has broadened the scope for the government to identify a critic as a traitor.
Within Putin’s Russia, the ‘rule of law’ has been portrayed as paramount, yet the essence of this term has been hijacked. For actions that can be interpreted as ‘unpatriotic’ towards the Russian state and/or ‘extremist’ in nature, the law is applied in a heavy-handed way, ultimately creating ‘extremists’ out of ordinary people; as has been the case for Yekaterina Vologzheninova. The climate for civil society has deteriorated to such an extent that self-censorship has become a critical tool for individuals seeking to avoid arbitrary reprisals from the state. Within such an environment, the right to freedom of expression cannot exist.
- Overturn Yekaterina Vologzheninova’s conviction as she is being prosecuted solely for exercising her right to freedom of expression;
- Ensure that Yekaterina Vologzheninova’s name is removed immediately from the government’s List of Terrorists and Extremists;
- Respect and protect the right to freedom of expression for all persons in Russia.
Write today and stand in solidarity with Russia’s civil society and with all human rights defenders in the Russian Federation.
Courtney Dobson is a Country Specialist for Russia at Amnesty International USA. She has previously worked in the NGO sector in Russia.